Yeo Valley Organic Garden
June 2018 I visited Yeo Valley Organic Garden for a fantastic tour, lunch and an afternoon learning about organic composting, pest control and gardening methods. The weather was perfect, the bees and damselflies were out in force and the coffee and cake were plentiful!
It was my second visit to the gardens and I was completely smitten once again. Organic heaven!
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Owner Sarah Mead and former head gardener Eileen O'Donnell had given an inspirational talk at Fagus gardening club in 2017 about the history of Yeo Valley and all the fascinating trials and tribulations of designing and building the clay soiled organic garden so I was really excited about exploring all these elements and seeing them first hand for myself.
You may already be familiar with Yeo Valley's Yeoken tokens that you can collect on many of their products such as yoghurts, butter and milk? Save the Yeokens and you can exchange them for experience days, discounts, and amongst other things festival tickets and bags for life. Before Covid you were able to use Yeokens towards an incredible day at the gardens including a guided tour of their extensive grounds. Let's hope those days return soon!
After a coffee, cake and welcome chat from the team, Yeo Valley gardener Matt took us on an extensive guided tour of the grounds. So much to see.
An incredible bespoke gate separated the storage/tool area and the cut flower garden. I was delighted to see their simple but effective way of dealing with the practicalities of gardening on different levels; steps are divided by a nifty stone ramp enabling easy passage way up and down for wheelbarrows. Genius!
Passed the kitchen garden you discover the red and lime garden inspired by Hidcote Manor Garden's red border, which hosted an impressive collection of Eremurus foxtail lilies giant yellow, Crocosmia 'Hellfire' and Lucifer'. The citrus colour combinations were glorious.
A more formal layout was adopted in the Bronze garden with a linear mirror pond set in the backdrop of the beautiful Holt Farmhouse. Black dye coloured the water to give a convincing mirror-like illusion which also helps cut down on algae growth too due to the reduced light levels.
Rosa 'Buff Beauty' lined both sides of the mirror pond and provided a stunning contrast reflected in the water, alongside the watchful eye of the surface skimmer fisherman sculpture.
Beyond the Mirror pond and red and lime borders was a huge grass border with extended views borrowed from the surrounding countryside and hills; again this was a natural haven for wildlife. When you moved so did all the surrounding foliage, damselflies flew up from every direction.
The grasses provided an ideal playground for insects and was absolutely teaming with life. I was lucky enough to even stumble across a happy couple mating!
The grasses and gravel garden were showered with the most incredibly beautiful Nectaroscordum siculum, Sicilian honey garlic which were also a big hit with the wildlife as well as the visitors. ...added Sicilian honey garlic to my must buy list !
The tour continued though the grass border which was normally cut late January/early February although this year was cut in autumn to provide habitats for over-wintering wildlife such as ladybirds and lacewings.
Then we meandered through the perennial meadow host to hundreds of snowdrops and camassia earlier in the year as well as a myriad of wildlife.
Once again the entire area was absolutely teaming with wildlife. Damselflies almost reached biblical proportions and obviously were very content in this natural environment. Bees and hoverflies buzzed happily engrossed in their chores.
We then walked up the breathtaking avenue of Malus hupehensis, tea crab trees which flower for just 10 days in May, under planted with a hedge of hornbeam.
The Avenue fenced off what was once a wildflower meadow but has subsequently been planted with 46 Salix alba and is home to a collection of bee hives, looked after by bee keeper John Smyth. What a perfect way to ensure your plants are pollinated!
At the end of the avenue we then entered an enchanting woody dell filled with the pale white peeling bark trunks of Betula pendula var jacquemontii, Himalayan birch, under planted with ferns, digitalis, erythroniums and anemones. Sunlight dappled through the canopy but the overwhelming star of the show was the prolific flowering Prunus lusitanica.
Swampy oasis... the next area looped round into a jurassic island combining the wild 'lost in time' feel of Gunnera manicata with the exquisite vibrant blooms of Primula pulverulenta and hostas.
Onward to the gravel garden. This enormous area hosts drift upon drift of herbaceous perennials intermingling around pond plants which effortlessly sweep up to the main house. Wooden pillars frame picture-perfect vistas of the garden and landscape beyond as well as providing a dramatic support for wisteria. You could lose yourself for hours in gravel garden.
A spectacular bespoke wooden seat, Aqualens sphere fountain, auricula theatre and alpine house also await discovery.
Miscanthus, ox-eye daisies and field maple planted in perfect lines drawing your eye out towards Blagdon Lake passed the Ha Ha.
Lunch was a fabulously friendly affair. Produce homegrown or reared at the farm was laid out along bench tables for everyone to tuck in, gorgeous vegetarian options can be pre-booked.
There was a little bit of free time so I had a wander around the glasshouse and enviously admired their fabulous army of cold frames.
The afternoon was an utter delight hosted by head gardener Andi Strachan who talked us through the organic practises at Yeo Valley from composting methods to organic pest controls and organic gardening in general - you will have to go on the tour to find out all the wonderful organic gems Andi had to share...
The final highlight was a visit to Yeo Valley Headquarters and the coolest, quirkiest staff canteen I have ever seen. Here you can purchase as many scrumptiously healthy organic treats as you can carry. Those 'in the know' brought cool bags with them! Mental note for next time...
The beauty of a garden throughout the seasons is it is ever changing and evolving. No two visits to Yeo Valley will ever be the same. Every time you go different plants will be in flower or fruit.
Looking forward to returning and seeing all the garden developments...and of course eating more of Yeo Valley's sublimely delicious and healthy organic food! See you there!
Photos © Debi Holland